Forecast: Four Season Bike Riding

What comes next for bicycle resellers as yearend financials roll in for 2011 in the American bicycle industry? Will resellers begin to breath a sigh of relief? As if they could possibly break even after another miserable year of work. What kind of shape are bike parts distributors and bike brands in who have had to reduce inventories, due to a lousy economy, to maintain their bottom line? The intentional maneuvering by Trek and Specialized brand stores is a business model tactic that suffers consequences for independent retailers that begs “what is fair competition”.  What we did while America sleeps is the story playing out in the minds and wallets of 4000 bicycle resellers preparing for 2012.

Seasonal businesses like bicycle retailing are more vulnerable to the weather and to the variegates of the economy. While bike industry suppliers rely on niche markets for income, those markets are flat except high end racing bikes due to the new popularity of the Tri-athalon. When summer is over the last hurrah will be Interbike hyping everything from e-bikes to hydraulic brake systems. While looming at years end is this seasons left over products that barely pays the rent for small retailers deciding to close up shop.

Has the small bicycle retailer lost purpose in American cities? Are the sole proprietor and two and three person shops no longer relevant? Will the chain store and factory store precipitate consolidation of bicycle retailers in lackluster second tier bicycle markets such as Indianapolis or Salt Lake? These are questions for small business people across an industry that many begin to feel betrayed by their suppliers. Also, questions abound from suppliers feeling they have given their resellers the best products, but still they can’t get the job done.

What are the trends for 2012 in American bike retail? For one the 26 inch mountain bike is fast loosing ground, another product, the 29 inch mountain bike, is ready to peak. Some products are growing; the used bike market is strong. Should small retailers start then to focus away from mountain bikes and bring on more trade- in product? Not necessarily if your stock and trade is mountain bikes and your support in the community is established. On the other hand, if mountain bikes are better supported by a more expert shop in your community, then moving on from a falling trend now could save your business from further financial decline in 2012.

My forecast for small retailers is to begin promoting four season transportation style bike riding. The products that go into supporting transportation bike riding have wide margins, are better quality than ever and offer unlimited opportunity for entrepeneurs.  Four season bike riding is an open invitation to a whole new category of customer that wants to engage with a shop they can trust. The steps that broaden your customer base have to be consistent with the message that bike riding for normal transportation will be supported by a caring staff committed toward customer education, excellent maintenance and product support. The shift towards bike transportation is a sustainable business model that small retailers can finally make a living, to become genuine players in bike retailing.

How does the face of a city look that has embraced four season bike riding and what does your customer look like? Bike riding has become the fastest way to get around for people in densely populated cities where parking is both costly and complicated.  This is true of Minneapolis and Portland. I believe there is more to this equation although anti- car sentiment is high on the list.  There are sub cultures that identify with a “bike culture” of hipsters, students, car free individuals and people employed in the bicycle industry. In addition where bike culture has spread there are bike riders in general who do not identify with a bike culture nonetheless are the fastest growing segment for new riders. These new riders are women and men in their forties and fifties and women in their twenties.

Studying your local demographic is vital for targeting the population specific to growing your business. Staff who are knowledgable and enthusiastic about urban riding are key to your success. The right products and the right staff is a full time job if your investment as a bike retailer is meant to succeed in your community for you and your customers.

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